Let’s just get this out of the way: it is your right, as a parent, to refuse high-stakes testing for your child.
In New Jersey, there are some exceptions to this rule (the HSPA, which was administered in March, is a graduation requirement, so students must take it)–but there is no law or regulation which states that any child must take the NJ ASK.
The HSPA and ASK are certainly not new assessments in New Jersey, but given that Bush’s NCLB and Obama’s Race to the Top have essentially perverted the original purpose of standardized testing, parents, students, and educators have had enough with the flawed tests that are being used to label children and teachers and close public schools.
The Opt-Out movement is a nation-wide attempt to restore local control to education (last month, an estimated 30,000 families in New York refused the state’s Language Arts assessment), but the idea of refusing the tests is relatively new to many New Jersey parents, students, administrators, and teachers. And because there’s no precedent for refusals, many districts are unsure about how to respond to parents who opt their children out.
Here’s what we DO know:
- There is no “opt-out” provision spelled out in NJ Administrative Code…but that doesn’t mean that parents are unable to opt their children out of testing.
- The operative word in Administrative Code is “shall”: 6A:8-4.1 dictates that “District boards of education shall, according to a schedule prescribed by the Commissioner, administer the applicable Statewide assessments,” and that “all students at grade levels three through 12, and at any other grade(s) designated by the Commissioner pursuant to (a) above, shall take all appropriate Statewide assessments as scheduled.” When districts challenge parent refusals, it is often this code they cite. However, “shall” expresses intention; “must” sets forth a mandate.
- Under the Fourteenth Amendment, parents have the right to “guide the religious upbringing and education of their children.” How this applies is unclear, but evidently some attorneys have cited this information in presenting parents’ legal rights to refuse tests for their children.
It’s important to note that district administrators and teachers are in precarious positions with regard to test refusals; all educators want what’s best for children, but administrators are also cognizant that the State is monitoring the percentage of students participating in state testing and daily attendance rates.
But ultimately, it comes down to this: nobody can force a child to take a test. Period.
And because there isn’t a policy regarding how districts should respond to test refusals, it is up to individual districts to decide how they’ll handle those refusals.
In Montclair, administrators were advised by Timothy Steele-Dadzie, NJASK 6-8 State Coordinator, that they could arrange “alternate plans” for students whose parents formally refused testing. Such accommodations might allow students to do “independent reading” or other school work in a non-testing room. While the DOE insisted that this policy was Montclair’s, and not the State’s, the fact that Montclair’s children are entitled to such accommodations indicates that all districts in the State of New Jersey are allowed to make similar arrangements.
Ultimately, the decision to refuse standardized tests is a personal one that should be made by families–but the most important thing parents who decide to opt their children out of tests can do is know their rights. If you choose to keep your child from participating in the NJ ASK, for example, here’s what you can do (and expect push-back, especially if your district’s administrators haven’t discussed how to handle such situations):
- Write a formal letter to your superintendent, BOE, principal, child’s teacher, and anyone else you feel should know about your wishes; include your reasons for refusing the tests. (Again, this is a personal decision–but feel free to reference/use/share this if it’s helpful.)
- Specify that you’d like your child to be placed in an alternative setting so he/she can read, do schoolwork, etc–and so he/she isn’t a distraction to students who are taking the test.
- Do not feel compelled to keep your child home for all testing and make-up days. Districts have an obligation to provide your child with an education, and administrators cannot insist that your child stay home and accrue unexcused absences in a case like this. (If necessary and logistically possible, an option is for you to bring your child to school after testing each day. Generally, students must be present for four hours in order to get credit for the day.)
- Many parents are requesting schools use the Void 2 code in the NJ ASK Score Interpretation Manual (page 69 in the 2013 manual): “2 = A student refused to test or engaged in behavior inappropriate for testing”–although there are apparently other coding options/irregularity reports. Once voided, a test cannot be given back to a student for completion. (This includes on make-up days.)
- Insist that you be contacted if the district cannot (or will not) make such arrangements for your child.
- Do not let districts tell you your child won’t be able to be placed in specific classes without ASK scores. Your child’s teachers know best what the most appropriate setting is for him/her and can recommend placement.
- Unless your school is a “focus” or “priority” school, your district should not lose funding even if it fails to meet the 95% participation rate, which was an NCLB mandate. (NJ got an NCLB waiver in 2012.) See this link; it’s from NY, but applies to NJ as well.
There’s much uncertainty regarding refusals and opt-outs, but again, parents have the right to keep their children from participating in these assessments–especially given that they do not improve or inform your child’s educational experience in any way. The only ones who benefit from standardized testing are testing corporations who profit financially and politicians who use unreliable test scores inappropriately to label children, determine teacher effectiveness, and close urban schools.
Could there be negative consequences for schools and teachers if students refuse the tests? I suppose so–but fear of ramifications should not keep educators from doing what they know is right for children and for public education. (For instance, if my top-performing students don’t take standardized tests and my SGP is negatively affected, so be it. If I’m fired for the scores my students earn on unreliable, biased, and meaningless standardized tests, then I’m not sure I could otherwise continue, in good conscience, to teach in a climate that forces me teach to a such tests when I know it to be poor educational practice.) In short, the consequences of NOT standing up to destructive policies and mandates will be much more damaging than spotty and temporary resistance to parental voice.
Many thanks to the parents and educators in New Jersey who are leading the way with test refusals–most notably, the administrators and contributors to the Opt Out of State Standardized Tests–New Jersey Facebook page, which has sample opt out letters, discussions, and district-specific information, and the New Jersey page of the United Opt Out national site–which is being rebuilt since the site was recently hacked.
I’ll continue to add links and resources to the text of this post over the next couple of days, but I wanted to publish it as soon as possible for parents who are concerned about the upcoming ASK tests. Please check back.
Adding: the Common Core-aligned PARCC (a Pear$on test) will replace the ASK and HSPA next year, and it’s an expensive, unfunded mandate that will cost districts tens of thousands of dollars. In just the last week, Boards of Education in Moorestown, Willingboro, Stafford, and Burlington Township (and more, I’m sure) have announced reductions in force. Willingboro cut 12 positions, but is spending $200,000 for computers so they’ll have the technology required for PARCC testing. Stafford is reportedly cutting 40 positions–the cuts will affect teachers in six buildings–and the superintendent issued this statement regarding the budget: “The district must prepare for the new state mandated PARCC assessment and align curriculum to the mandated Common Core State standards.” Are taxpayers and parents okay with this?
- www.delranea.org–links to all the handouts we distributed at screening of Standardized the Delran Education Association sponsored.
- Delran Education Association Facebook page
- Delran Education Association president Michael Kaminski’s letter (Facebook link) to Delran superintendent; lists court decisions supporting parental rights
- Standardized–Lies, Money, and Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education
- Sample opt-out letter from Delran parent Wendy Mitchell